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By a Back Door to the US: A Migrant's Grim Sea Voyage



Occupational Distribution of Employed Workers, March 2002
California: Prop 187, Labor, Bilingual Education

Proposition 187. US District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer declared the core provisions of Proposition 187 unconstitutional on March 18, 1998, holding that only the federal government can regulate immigration. The March 1998 decision was Pfaelzer's third ruling against Proposition 187. Governor Pete Wilson promised to appeal Pfaelzer's decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Prop. 187 was approved 59 percent to 41 percent by California voters in November 1994.

According to Pfaelzer in a 32-page opinion, Congressional overhaul of welfare laws in 1996 reinforced her conclusion that the US Constitution gives the federal government exclusive power to regulate immigration: "California is powerless to enact ... its own legislative scheme to regulate alien access to public benefits."

Pfaelzer permitted provisions of parts of Proposition 187 that increase penalties for the manufacture, distribution, sale or use of false documents for immigration purposes to remain in effect.

For the third time, a judge has blocked the implementation of a California plan to eliminate state-subsidized prenatal care for 70,000 illegal alien women each year. Under a California plan, the legal status of pregnant women seeking Medi-Cal benefits was to be checked beginning April 1, 1998, but a state judge ruled that California had not yet developed a plan that would ensure that women would still have access to screening and treatment for infectious ailments regardless of immigration status.

California plans to require that the three million doctors, cosmetologists, real estate agents and other state-licensed professionals prove they are US citizens or legal residents when they renew their professional licenses. The 1996 welfare law required those seeking "public benefits" to prove they are legally in the US and expanded the definition of public benefits from welfare checks to include professional and commercial licenses.

The Department of Motor Vehicles plans to require 573,000 commercial license holders to prove legal status at renewal beginning July 1, 1998. The Department of Consumer Affairs, which renews about 800,000 of the two million licenses covering cosmetologists, accountants, architects, barbers, physicians each year will follow, as will the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department, which issues 71,000 liquor licenses and the Department of Real Estate, which issues 300,000 real estate licenses.

Since 1994, the DMV has required new applicants for regular driver's licenses--primarily teenagers--to produce proof of citizenship or legal residency.

Labor. California added 480,000 jobs in 1997, bringing wage and salary employment to 13.3 million. Some projections expect California to add 432,000 jobs in 1998.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent in January 1998, the lowest rate since 1990. On March 1, 1998, California's minimum wage rose to $5.75 an hour; the federal minimum wage remains $5.15.

The wages of the lowest paid 10 percent of the US labor force rose two percent in 1997 to $260 a week, the first significant increase since 1991. The increase in weekly wages reflects a tight labor market: the Federal Reserve reported in March 1998 that the supply of entry-level workers "appears to be insufficient to meet existing production schedules" in most parts of the US. The US GDP expanded by 3.8 percent in 1997, the fastest growth since 1988; inflation was two percent.

As the labor market tightens, employers are making predictable adjustments. In addition to increasing wages, training times have been shortened and employers are making more vigorous recruitment efforts.

Proposition 226, on the June 2, 1998 ballot, promises to be the most expensive initiative campaign in California history. Proposition 226 would require unions to get permission from union members each year before using their dues for political purposes. In the two states that have such rules, contributions from union members for political activities fell by 75 percent. Backers of "paycheck protection" promised to spend $10 million; the AFL-CIO approved a plan to spend $13 million to defeat such initiatives nationwide.

The initiative is aimed at the 285,000-member California Teachers Association, which uses $31.57 of its annual dues for political activity--$19 for initiative campaigns and $12.57 for everything else. In Washington, approval of a similar initiative in 1992 resulted in a sharp drop in the number of teachers who contributed to political activity from 48,000 to 8,000.

Polls suggest that 70 percent of California voters support Proposition 226, including a majority of union members.

Bilingual Education. Proposition 227, the "English for the Children" initiative on the June 2, 1998 ballot, is being seen as a referendum on how best to integrate immigrants. A March 1998 poll found Prop. 227 leading among likely voters 70-30 percent.

State education policy has been to encourage Limited English Proficient children to receive instruction in their native language as they learn English, although a lack of bilingual teachers means that only 410,000 of the 1.4 million LEP children in California actually receive bilingual instruction. In Los Angeles, almost half of the students are classified as LEP, compared with 13 to 15 percent in New York, Chicago and Miami. About 25 percent of California's 5.5 million K-12 students are classified Limited English Proficient.

Across the US, about 3.2 million of 46 million K-12 public school students were classified as LEP in 1995-96, up from 1.5 million in 1985-86.

Some Latino activists see Proposition 227 as a third strike against immigrants, following Proposition 187 in 1994 to deny schooling and other benefits to illegal immigrants (mostly not implemented) and Proposition 209 in 1996 to end affirmative action (mostly implemented). In 1967, then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law an end to California's system of English-only instruction. The law mandating bilingual education expired in 1987.

The Los Angeles Unified School District released a study on March 2, 1998 that examined children who remained in the same elementary school from first through fifth grade. When the 4,200 students were given standardized English tests in fifth grade, those who had come through the native language bilingual program fared better than those who had been enrolled only in tailored English classes known as English Language Development.

Critics noted that only 39 percent of the children who had unusual stability in elementary school shifted to English classes by the end of fifth grade, and that both groups fell below the district's median percentile--bilingual children scored in the 28th percentile nationally in reading, and English-language program students at the 21st percentile.

Los Angeles Unified School District students has 430,000 LEP children, and 75 percent live in homes with below-poverty level incomes. The challenge that became the English for the Children initiative began with a boycott of the Ninth Street Elementary School after parents complained that their children were not learning English. Los Angeles teachers split narrowly 52-48 against the initiative in a 1997 vote, but Los Angeles school administrators are more solidly in favor of bilingual instruction.

The most recent statewide poll found the initiative leading 67 to 24 percent among likely voters. Others, including Jaime Escalante of "Stand and Deliver" fame, has endorsed Proposition 227.

The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute released an assessment of 11 studies of the effectiveness of bilingual programs, and concluded: "The vast majority of evaluations of bilingual programs are so methodologically flawed in their design that their results offer more noise than signal."

Concern about schools was cited at the top of the list of issues facing children by 24.3 percent of Guatemalan parents and 24 percent of Salvadoran parents who were living in the US. The second-rated concern was language difficulties and poverty for Guatemalans and poverty and immigration status by Salvadoran respondents. The 1990 census counted 120,000 Guatemalans and 250,000 Salvadorans in Los Angeles County.

The study found that there is dissatisfaction among Latinos on the teaching of English. The survey found that English and language acquisition are what Latino immigrants see as most important to succeed in the US. The study's authors warn against drawing quick conclusions about the study because even they were divided on whether the findings reflected parental criticism of bilingual education or of the school system in general.

In 1997, California enacted a law that requires all children in grades two through 11 to take the Stanford Achievement Test in English; the grades are to be reported for individual students, schools and districts. Several school districts, including San Francisco, have threatened not to administer the test to LEP children, which might skew the results, since school districts that test everyone as ordered may have lower scores than school districts that permit LEP children not to take the test. Parents of students can sign a waiver if they do not want their child to take the achievement test.

Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department has a 12-year old Foreign Prosecution Unit that pursues suspects who fled the US after committing crimes in Los Angeles and gives testimony when they are prosecuted aboard. The United States does not have extradition treaties with most Latin American countries but many countries, for example, Mexico, Nicaragua or El Salvador try suspects for murder and other violent crimes committed in the US.

The Foreign Prosecution Unit was founded in 1985, after a study found that nearly half of the LAPD's outstanding arrest warrants involved Mexican nationals who were presumed to have fled the country. The FPU works with Interpol to find suspects who flee abroad and then prepares the evidence so that the person can be arrested and prosecuted. The FPU clears about one-third of its cases, compared to two-thirds of all homicide cases in Los Angeles.

The Mexican consulate in Los Angeles has a representative of the Mexican attorney general's office to work with the FPU in prosecuting suspects in Mexico for crimes committed in Los Angeles.

The 20-story La Curacao Business Center in the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles is being transformed into a Latino business center, with the consulates of many Latin American countries, and many Spanish-speaking professionals who are exploring trade opportunities with Central America. The population of the one square-mile area around the office towers is 90 percent Latino.

Orange county, with 2.7 million residents in 1997, up 11 percent since 1990, added 184,600 immigrants between 1990 and 1997, and had net "domestic emigration" of 184,600. In other words, the number of immigrants exactly matched the net number of domestic out migrants.

Anne-Marie O'Connor, "School is Top Issue for 2 Immigrant Groups," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1998. Patrick McDonnell, "Judge's Final Order Kills Key Points of Prop. 187," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1998. Daniel Yi, "Nation's Borders Don't Stop Special LAPD Unit," Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1998. Amy Pyle, "Opinions Vary on Studies That Back Bilingual Classes," Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1998.

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